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Teaching Strategies to Implement a Writer’s Workshop

Janelle Cox

In our schools, students don’t often want to write, nor do they ever ask to write. But as teachers, it is our job to put forth an effort to use teaching strategies that stimulate our students to write. A writer’s workshop offers us the opportunity to demonstrate the power that writing can have on our lives. By inviting students to write daily, we can help them discover how it can enrich our lives.

Here are a few teaching strategies to help guide your students through a writer’s workshop program.

Teaching Strategies for Grade K-2

While it may seem like kids of this age are too young because they can barely write, it is possible to successfully implement a writer’s workshop into grades as young as kindergarten. Here are a few tips on how to work with these small children.

  • Students Can Write.  Don’t underestimate your students. If you give them the time to write, they will try. Kindergartens can go as long as 30 minutes at a time, and students in grades one and two can write for up to an hour.
  • Drawing as an Alternative. For kindergarten students who are having trouble forming letters or writing words, you can have them draw what they want to communicate. For the older students in grades one and two, writing should be their main focus, and drawing can be their second. 
  • Use Mini-lessons for What Students Struggle with. Students in grades K-2 will find writing to be difficult. So, your main focus with your mini-lessons should be to focus on what that group is having difficulty with. For example, kindergarteners will need help with how to hold their pencil, while first graders may need help with letter reversal (b, d or p, q).

Tips for Grade 3-6

In grades 3-6 is when writing really gets serious.  This is the time when students are able to expand their writing, and really get a grasp of what a writer’s workshop is all about. You will find that students in these grades can produce longer writing pieces, with some being more than 2000 words. Here are a few tips for structuring your writer’s workshop with upper elementary age students.

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Experiment with Different Genres. It is wise to experiment with different genres of writing at this age. It will give students the opportunity to find out what they like to write the best. Most teachers find that students enjoy writing personal narrative the best. This is the easiest for them, and will allow you to see everything that you taught them in their work.

Use Mini-lessons for Teaching Revising. Your main focus at this age during mini-lessons should be to focus on the revising stage. This is the hardest stage in the writing process, even for adults. Get students into the habit of also trying to make their work better.

Introduce a Writing Portfolio. If your students don’t already have a writing portfolio from years past, then now is the time to create one. Over the course of the school year, students will be writing a lot of pieces and a writing portfolio is a great way for them to see how they have grown as a writer.

Use a Computer for Only the Final Publication. Technology is a great, but children at this age will want to use it all of the time and most likely are not good at typing. Leave the computers to the final stage in the writing process when student have to publish their writing piece.

If you are looking for a good reference book in the primary grades, I highly recommend “Balanced Literacy Instruction (second edition), A Teacher’s Resource Book” by Kathryn H. Au, Jacquelin H. Carrol, and Judith A. Scheu. This well-organized book goes in-depth about reader’s and writer’s workshop. Another great read is “The Art of Teaching Writing” by Lucy McCormick Calkins. In this book you will find a deeper understanding of the writing process and how to teach it.

Tips for Grades 7-12

Oftentimes, teachers in these grades don’t think they can use writer’s workshop in their classes because of the lack of time that they have. While this may hold true, it is still possible to implement a writer’s workshop into your classes. Here are a few tips on how to make it work.

Teach Writing on the Same Days. While you may not be able to teach writer’s workshop everyday with students in grades 7-12, you can aim to teach it on the same days each week. Try to aim for three days a week if you can. Or, try to do it for a few consecutive weeks. Writing is an invaluable skill that students need to practice.

Assign Topics Students Can relate to. In today’s schools, teachers are trying to get their students to connect what they are learning to the real world. Find topics that students can relate to, or need in the real world. For example, job applications, business letters, college entrance pieces, etc. These are things that will be useful as students enter college or the workforce.

Cut Back or Eliminate Mini-lessons. There is no need for a mini-lesson each class session at this age. Spend your class time having students write, revise, or share their work with their peers. This is far more valuable than having a mini-lesson at this stage in school.

If you’re looking for a good reference book for students in this age range, then I highly recommend Nancie Atwell’s “In the Middle.” Her second edition has a lot of new material that will help you transform your writer’s workshop.

Do you implement a writer’s workshop into your classroom? If so, do you have any tips that you would like to share with us? Please feel free to leave your ideas in the comment section below, we would love to hear your thoughts.

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